Dental patients are likely familiar with their dentist taking gum pocket measurements during annual appointments, however, it’s important to understand why this procedure, known as Periodontal Probing and Charting is done, and more importantly, realize the implications that those numbers represent. 

Gum pockets located in the area where the wall of the tooth and the gum tissue come together in close proximity. They attach some distance below the area where the gum scallops around the tooth, creating what we refer to as the periodontal pocket. 

One of the ways dentists judge periodontal health is to measure the depth of that attachment, and measure the depth of that pocket. Dentists use a hand instrument that measures the pockets in millimeters. From that information a periodontal chart is created. This chart is really important in documenting the health of the gum tissue when a patient comes in for their dental cleaning appointments. 

Because a person’s oral health directly correlates with the health of person’s brain, heart, organs and artery system, Dr. Rockey is on a mission to help people learn about the oral-systemic connection and teach them how they can take gain control of their own health – he notes that is it starts with education.  

Dr. Rockey recommends alternating between x-rays and periodontal charting every six months. He notes “At a patient’s normal recall (follow up dental visit), we take pictures at one six month period and six month later we do the periodontal charting. From those two documents we can see how a patient is doing.”

Number 3 mm pocket measurements are viewed as being fairly healthy; the significance of that is that 3 mm is the extent of which someone is able to clean under the gum by sweeping out the bacteria and debris in order to keep the bacteria loads and bacteria colonies from growing. 

Bacteria loads and bacteria colonies actually cause the progression of periodontal disease starting with gingivitis, which is inflammation and swelling of the gums. Going unchecked, this condition eventually leads to bone deterioration, bone loss, and deepening of the pockets, which is the typical progression of periodontal disease. 

Periodontal pocket measurements of 3 mm are good. Measurements of 4 mm and 5 mm pockets are getting deeper; the patient is likely experiencing bleeding of the gums which is a result of irritation of the gum tissue. Dr. Rockey says, “Measurements of 5 mm indicate the start of bone loss in-between the teeth, which should be treated as soon as possible. If allowed to progress, bone loss will continue.”

Cleaning the teeth by flossing or a water pick and with a Sonicare toothbrush is essential to clean in-between the teeth in order to clear out the bacteria that likes to harbor itself in hard to reach places. This is where periodontal disease progresses faster and more severely than other places in the mouth. 

The positive news is that periodontal probing and charting is an excellent procedure and tool to proactively monitor and manage a patient’s periodontal (oral) health. It’s not enough to simply chart deeper periodontal pockets. Rather, a dentist and patient should be having conversations about what those numbers mean, about a plan to eradicate periodontal disease, and discuss oral-systemic considerations. 

If you have any questions about periodontal probing and charting or any other health-related topic, contact Dr. Dana Rockey at (949) 642-4632 or send an email to Team @